Tag Archives: Sara Harris

Refreshing New Look For Westport’s Website

So much of Westport sparkles.

Our transformed library. Compo Beach, from the playground and pavilion to the new South Beach walkway and grills. Longshore. Staples High School. The Saugatuck River. From Harbor Road to Beachside Avenue, Sherwood Mill Pond to Mahackeno, this is a truly remarkable town.

Our website, however, sucked.

Last updated in 2011 — after 2 previous equally grim versions — it was an ugly, bloated mess. Typography, layout, massive text and lack of photos  — all that wouldn’t have been so bad, if you could easily find what you were looking for.

But you could not.

Happily, as of today Westport’s official website is as crisp, clear and clean as so many of our other wonders.

The new website landing page.

Don’t believe me? Click here!

The new site was more than 2 years in the making. First Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Website Redevelopment Steering Committee, including town staff and residents with expertise in technology, design, economic development and community interests.

They worked with Granicus, a company that specializes in website services for local governments.

Since the 2011 version debuted, users have migrated from desktops to mobile devices. The new website, all agreed, had to be mobile-friendly.

In addition, town operations director Sara Harris says, users needed quicker access to information.

“Popular services” and “I Want To…” provide quick access to information.

One key feature of the new design is a better search bar. The former “mega-menu” has been cleaned up and streamlined.

The committee used Google Analytics to rearrange the “How do I…?” section. The most popular requests — regarding, for example, beach passes, railroad parking permits, town maps, employment opportunities, open bids and bid results, and videos of town meetings — are given the most prominence.

A one-click “Popular Services” section makes it easier to pay taxes, register for programs, and get meeting agendas and minutes.

News is more prominently displayed on the home page.

There are more photos too, showing (of course) Westport at its best and most beautiful.

An “Economic Opportunity” page is aimed at anyone considering opening a business or relocating here. The goal, Harris says, is to show the town’s great quality of life, and support of business.

For the first time, Westport is marketing directly to businesses and employers.

The site now offers a 1-click link to subscribe to some (or all!) town notifications: emergency alerts, meeting information, news, you name it.

And — this is very, very cool — the Town Charter, plus every ordinance and regulation (including Planning & Zoning, the Conservation Commission, and Parks & Recreation Commission) are all available on one page.

As often happens, after the 2011 website went live certain sections lay dormant. Now, every department has a designated content manager. They’re trained on how to keep their own pages fresh and updated — and respond to users’ evolving needs.

The Parks & Recreation page is one of the most visited on the town’s website.

As part of the project, volunteers with marketing and design backgrounds — including graphic artist Miggs Burroughs; advertising creative director Rob Feakins; brand innovation principal and Westport Downtown Merchants Association president Randy Herbertson, and marketer Jamie Klein — worked to refresh the town’s “brand identity.”

Westport’s new website logo.

They eventually settled on a new logo. Designed by Samantha Cotton — who grew up in and now works here — it suggests open space, the movement of water or sails, and “open warmth and refreshing coolness.”

After a month of testing by the committee and town staffers, the new website went live yesterday.

Harris says, “We’re confident that users will be happy with the experience. We think it represents the town very well.”

She invites residents — and everyone else — to test-drive the new website. The URL is the same: www.westportct.gov.

What do you think? Click “Comments” here.

And/or email the town directly: webmaster@westportct.gov.

Of course, you can also do it from the site itself. Nearly every page has a “feedback” button.

It’s simple. It’s easy.

And that’s the whole idea behind the refreshing new website refresh.

A highlight of the new WestportCT.gov website is the Highlights page.

Meet Sara Harris: Town’s New Operations Director

The position of town operations director — vacant since Dewey Loselle resigned in November — has been filled.

Sara Harris moved into Town Hall earlier this month. She’s learning the ins and outs of local government, meeting elected and appointed officials, and discovering what makes Westport move.

The town of 25,000 is a big change from her previous job. Most recently, in New York City’s Office of Management and Budget, she focused on financial efficiency — for a city of 8 million.

Previously, as chief of staff for New York’s Department of Parks & Recreation Capital Division she oversaw an office of 400 people, responsible for the design and construction of all parks and parkland projects.

Sara Harris

And as a member of the city’s Franchise Concession Review Committee, Harris approved hundreds of agreements involving cable television, Central Park and a golf course.

Yet Westport is not new territory. Harris is a Connecticut native. As a student at Fordham University, where she majored in urban studies and political science, she often got off the train here. She’d meet her mother to shop, or head to Compo Beach.

“I always liked this town,” Harris says.

She loved her job in New York City — the work, her supervisors, the opportunity it provided for professional growth — but she did not want to live there forever.

When she saw Westport’s position posted in January, she says, “I had to apply.”

Her role here, Harris explains, is “to be the person to step back, look at strengths and weaknesses in how things are done, and suggest improvements.” Coming from the outside, she says, “I can notice things that others may not.”

She’ll look at performance measures, seeking greater efficiencies. One example is consolidating municipal operations with those of the Board of Education. Another is joining with surrounding towns like Fairfield, Norwalk, Stamford and Greenwich, searching for economic opportunities.

Harris’ goals are to “do good, and make improvements for the greater good.”

Sara Harris in her new Town Hall office. A painting of the old Town Hall — now Jesup Hall restaurant — hangs behind her.

“I’m in a new environment,” she notes. “I’m going to have to understand the history, culture and codes of a new place.”

But, Harris adds, “That’s also a plus. As I get to know people and find my place, I can make a good impact.”

She describes her style as “accommodating and understanding. I try to see where people come from, and figure out the legal and policy reasons why they do what they do. I’m patient.”

In New York’s bureaucracy, she was “one person among many. Here, I’m ready and trained to look at details, and be able to apply them on a more macro level.”

And, Harris — who earned a master’s urban policy analysis and management from New  School University —  says, “there really are a lot of similarities among all governments,” whether big city or small town.

She has moved from New York to another small town: Monroe. There, she and her husband spend most of their time with their kids: a 4-year-old and 2-month-old.

“They’re my happiness,” Harris says.